Kenyan forces in Somalia are receiving fees for allowing illicit exports of charcoal from a port under their control, a United Nations monitoring group said in a report published Friday.
Kenyan troops assigned to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) receive $2 (Sh202) per bag of charcoal loaded at the port of Kismayu, the UN group says, citing “charcoal industry and non-governmental organisations sources”.
The report estimates that up to six million bags of charcoal have been exported annually from Kismayu and Buur Gaabo, another port that is adjacent to a Kenyan base.
Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) units may thus have reaped as much as $12 million (Sh1.2bn) a year from charcoal exports banned by the UN Security Council in 2012 in an effort to cut off funding for Al-Shabaab.
“The Kenyan contingent of Amisom continues to play a substantial role in the illicit export of charcoal from Somalia,” the UN monitoring group declares in its 247-page report.
Amisom has not replied to a request that the UN group made nine months ago for information on steps to prevent charcoal exports and ensure compliance by countries contributing troops to the AU mission.
Al-Shabaab has recently become less reliant on the charcoal trade, however, due in part to “improved enforcement of the charcoal ban by importing countries”, the report points out.
It says the charcoal export economy in Somalia is now based on an alliance between the Interim Juba Administration and business interests in Kismayu.
Shabaab has actually begun attacking or detaining charcoal burners and traders in territory where it wields influence, the report adds.
The group’s shift is said to result from the breakdown of a profit-sharing deal with Ahmed Mohamed Islam, the president of Jubaland State who is also known as “Madobe.”
“Once ‘Madobe’ cut Al-Shabaab out of a share of the proceeds from charcoal exports, the group retaliated, using coercion with the apparent motive of diminishing the revenue being accrued to the Interim Juba Administration from the continuing charcoal trade,” the report states.
To offset losses of revenue from charcoal smuggling, Shabaab is increasing its illicit export of sugar to Kenya, the UN experts say.
Shabaab previously taxed the transport of sugar from Kismayu into Kenya at $1,000 per truck, the report notes.
“New information suggests that Al-Shabaab has since increased its tax on large civilian trucks in Lower Juba to $1,500 per truck,” the monitors add.
It is estimated that Shabaab could be accruing as much as $18 million a year from the sugar trade, the report says.
The monitoring group also states in its report on developments this year that about 150 Kenyan soldiers were killed in Shabaab’s attack in January on a KDF base El Adde, a town in southern Somalia.
That toll constitutes “the largest military defeat in Kenyan history”, the UN experts note.
They add that at least 11 Kenyan soldiers were captured in the attack and subsequently held hostage by Al-Shabaab in two separate groups in Middle Juba.
“Since their abduction,” the report states, “the group has received information concerning the changing whereabouts and status of the captives, which it has shared with the Kenyan authorities through an intermediary”.
Kenyan troops occupying the El Adde base had “failed to implement basic defensive measures, such as constructing fortified barriers at the entrance to the camp and neglecting to man machine gun and mortar emplacements”, the report adds.
“An intense aerial campaign in Gedo” carried out by the Kenyan military in retaliation for the El Adde attack resulted in the killings of at least 12 civilians, the monitors say.
“The bombing campaign triggered displacement of at least 8,600 people who fled El Adde, Likooley and nearby villages in the two weeks following the attack, some displaced multiple times as the bombing continued.”
In its efforts to obtain information about KDF activities in Somalia, “the group received limited cooperation from the government of Kenya and its security services”, the report states.
The monitors note that Kenya did transmit a communique to the monitoring group last April in which the government addressed an allegation by the group that the KDF had bombed and launched ground attacks on places where displaced persons had gathered for shelter.
Kenya called that allegation “erroneous”.
The government further told the monitors that the KDF “in the discharge of its obligations to international peace and security efforts adheres to comprehensive best practice, standard operating procedures and a strict code of conduct and discipline”.
The monitoring report also notes that in its April communique Kenya had asserted that its forces were “guided by Amisom rules of engagement including international humanitarian law and the African Union Peace Support Operations Code of Conduct.”